The Horn of Africa, comprising Ethiopia and its surrounding countries, is cut off from the rest of the continent by mountain ranges and coastline, forming an "ark" that, in the words of author Graham Hancock, "shelters an astonishing variety of human societies: from the ancient and highly sophisticated to the remote, simple and untouched. . . ." (The region has other ark connections as well; this is the traditional homeland of Noah, and the ancient Ethiopian city of Axum is, "Raiders" notwithstanding, the legendary resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.) The fittingly titled African Ark (photographs by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, text by Graham Hancock, Abrams, 320 pages, $65) is the result of five years' worth of adventuring by two remarkably brave women photographers, who traveled by foot, mule or four-wheel-drive into remote areas that had rarely been visited by outsiders and remain untouched by the colonial heritage that has so altered the traditional cultures of other parts of Africa. Mr. Hancock's words provide learned historical-anthropological background for the women's pictures of the astonishingly beautiful, inexpressibly foreign people of the Horn, and rituals that date to the cradle days of this "cradle of mankind."
I must confess to knowing Katmandu only as the answer to a joke "Jeopardy" question. ("Who sleeps with Catwoman?") But a new book has arrived to enlighten me, and other heathen, not only about the semilegendary Himalayan valley but about its proper spelling. Kathmandu, the Forbidden Valley (photography by R. Ian Lloyd, text by Wendy Moore, St. Martin's Press, 160 pages, $40) reveals a part of Nepal that until the 1950s was known to the rest of the world only by unbelieveable travelers' tales of mysterious skull-decked gods and potentates who wore jewels the size of birds' eggs. When outsiders began to find their way to the valley, they found that the reality was just as colorful as the legend. (Even today, animals are sacrificed to the goddess of victory, and "living goddesses" are chosen from among the ranks of young virgins.) With a prose style that is romantic and descriptive, vividly evoking sights and smells, Ms. Moore tells us about the history, arts, religious practices and agricultural methods of the valley. Mr. Lloyd, a photojournalist based in Singapore, supplies suitably awe-inspiring color photography.